Monthly Archives: January 2015

There are good people in this world

So, I was ironing this evening and one of my closest friends talked about seeing something which reminded her that there were good people in this world. It really made me think. The news recently has showed wave after wave of tragedy and hate. I have friends who choose not to watch the news because of the constant barrage of hate in the world. I have other friends who are concerned when they are pregnant because they are unsure whether they want to bring a new innocent life into a world like this.

My husband comes from Libya as I have mentioned before. Everyday there is news from Libya about people fighting their own countrymen. We hear about young and old losing their lives everyday in a war that has no winners, only losers. Every day people end their lives because they think the world is a better place without them or they think that they have no place in the world.

So, it made me think. What makes me want to continue fighting? To keep existing? It’s pretty simple.

People. Life. Those moments where you have a belly laugh that literally rocks your entire body after a conversation with friends. That moment where you see someone smile in the street and say hello with no expectation about what you will reply with. That ‘Pride of Britain’ moment when you hear about someone risking their own life for someone else. There are moments like these everyday. They are hidden admittedly and it’s hard some days to find them.

I rely on a few special friends. They are the ones who will message me, sing to me and make me giggle. The ones who I can call on every second of the day and know that they will be there. I rely on my family who inspire me everyday with the experiences that they have had and the love that they show me every day. I rely on my husband who is the most laidback person I have ever met in my life. I rely on stories on Twitter and Facebook, everyday stories about real people with real lives doing extraordinary things. I watch fundraising shows like Comic Relief and Children in Need and become inspired at those who give when they may have little extra money.

It’s difficult. Some days I can see it easier than others. That ‘goodness’. Those special stories that make me smile. I’m not a glass half full person. I’m not a glass half empty. I’m just a yorkshire lass. Sitting in front of a computer/tv screen. Looking for things to make her smile and make her realise that life can be good, life can be great.

Religion doesn’t kill people, people do

I was in two minds about writing this blog post. Like most things that I write, I feel passionate about the topic in the title and, whilst I always try to balance my viewpoints, sometimes my passion for a subject takes over and I fear that I will not achieve balance.

To add to that, the events that sparked this blog post are recent and I want to just start off by saying that the Paris attacks today are tragic. I cannot even imagine what the families and friends of the victims are going through and nobody deserves to have their life taken. I saw a lot of good on Twitter today with pictures of solidarity protests in Paris and the hashtag #jesuischarlie. Absolutely amazing and made me realise that for all the bad in the world, there are a lot of good people who come together to say that terrorists won’t win, there will never be an acceptance of terrorist attacks and to remember innocent lives taken.

On the flip side, and please feel free to stop reading at any point, Twitter searches made me angry too. Angry that some were trying to take away the focus from innocent lives being killed in a terrorist attack to focusing on attacking Islam. I appreciate this may be seen as a similar thing in a way about taking the focus away so I understand if people choose not to read it. I am writing it now as I have thought of some things to say and don’t want to forget them in a few days.

As a bit of background, I am married to a Muslim man. Even writing those words feel strange as Islam doesn’t spring to mind when I think of him or introduce him. I may introduce him as my husband, Mohamed or even Libyan but I have never said “Hi, this is Mohamed. He is my Muslim husband”. This is despite the fact that he does strongly identify as a Muslim and is a practicing Muslim. He prays and observes Ramadan. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He believes there is one God called Allah.

I’m a Christian and have been since birth. Although I don’t go to church on a regular basis, I do have my faith and would describe myself as a Christian. My reasons for not going to church are personal and I am planning to attend again in the future. When I married my husband, a few comments were made about whether I was going to convert to Islam. No one ever asked him if he was going to convert to Christianity. I grew up in a predominantly white Christian area of Yorkshire and did not have friends who were Muslim until I came to university. When I met Mohamed, I have to confess my thoughts about Islam were relatively negative. I met him not long after 9/11 and the negative media that ensued meant I was convinced that he would demand that I would convert to Islam and I was extremely cautious about entering into a relationship with him. Obviously I’m glad I did but I’m saying this to be honest and open about my perceptions pre marrying my husband.

My husband has challenged my perceptions about Islam every day since. I’m not Muslim so I can’t pretend to know everything about Islam but I’m 100% certain my husband doesn’t advocate killing people. Muslims value life, it is a gift from God and a crime to take it away. It upsets me when I hear that Islam promotes killing. It doesn’t. There is reference to jihadism but it talks about the end of the world where only Muslims will enter heaven. I am pretty certain as a Christian that we also say that only Christians will go to heaven as well. There is also an accompanying ‘guide’ (there is a proper term for this’ which is meant to be read as an interpretative guide to the Koran.

One of my closest friends said, and there is background to this, why aren’t lovely Muslims standing up and doing documentaries showing what life is really like and their Islamic practices as a lot of people are fearful. I get that. I do. The answer is they do. There have been a number of programmes, including a programme following a British woman converting to Islam, but they don’t get promoted in the media. Sadly, the negative media stories get pushed to the front and the good stories get buried.

The other side to me thought, why should they? Why should Muslims go out and tell everybody they aren’t killers because some terrorists decided to kill people in the name of a religion? When a Christian extremist has gone out and attacked and killed, should I stand up and say all Christian people aren’t like that or do you just take it that I’m not a murderer? Yes, there is work that needs to be done about integration between communities. They are doing it, faith leaders in Birmingham met during the last few years and did a huge amount of work between two gangs. The reality is that if I walked up to someone and killed them whilst yelling “In the name of God” would that mean Christianity was responsible for killing them because I’m a Christian?

I saw a quote from Salman Rushdie who said “Religion,like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire and yes, our fearless disrespect”. I didn’t expect anything less from him. I would rephrase it as “Religion, like all other ideas, deserve challenging whilst respecting discussions to promote integration and well being”. As long as people are afraid of discussing religion in a respectful way, there will always be some element of suspicion. There will always be those who feed on fear and use religion as an excuse to kill people. There will always be fighting and there will always be fear. I speak to my husband all the time about his religion and questions like why do women wear hijabs, are women not respected like men, why men and women are separate during prayers.  Like most things, there are good and bad interpretations of everything. I hope that those watching the events in Paris will focus on the real important messages from today. Innocent lives were lost and evil terrorists committed the act and should be caught and punished. Anything else can wait until another day. #jesuischarlie

Christmas and New Year – a time to remember

As some of you may know, I spent some time in Yorkshire, my home county, after the Christmas period. This year, rather than frantically try and see everybody and end up seeing lots of people for 5 minutes each, I made a conscious decision to spend time with family and only saw a couple of my closest, special friends who are more like family to me anyway. The result was that I had a really relaxed Christmas and New Year and came back to Birmingham feeling refreshed and content.

The natural side effect of Christmas and New Year for me is that it makes me think about those who are not here anymore. This Christmas meant that I had not seen my mum for 22 years. Even writing that makes me take a deep breath and look away. The sadness and empty feeling has never gone away since she died. I don’t mean that to be morbid. For me, it just means that, as time passes, I manage to cope with those feelings of sadness better and function as a relatively ‘normal’ human being whatever that means. In my case it means I don’t have a breakdown every day and I can remember good things about her. From the time that she howled because I had a loose teeth and she asked me if it was called ‘Fred’ because it was hanging by a thread to the time that she hugged me so tight after being poorly to the letter that she wrote given to me after she died which talked about my illness as a baby and that she hoped I would grow up to be someone who wasn’t judgmental and took everyone at face value regardless of disability, gender or religion.

This year was particularly hard as it was the first Christmas without my nan. My nan ties in closely with my mum as, despite the fact my nan was my dad’s mum, she absolutely adored my mum and frequently took her away on holidays. She was the only one I felt who I could talk to me about my mum and it really made me evaluate who I choose to talk about my mum and why. Note I said “I felt” as I don’t think she is the only one I could talk to but it’s how I felt.

My dad is amazing. He raised me from the age of 9 and I think he did a pretty good job. His role meant that my ideals about gender roles were completely smashed at an early age. Yes, I do believe everyone needs a male and female role model but the important thing is about the quality of that role model rather than having to be a mum and dad. I don’t believe everyone needs a biological mum and dad. In my case obviously I would have given anything to have my mum still in my life but my dad did a great job bringing in my aunties. My favourite moment is when I had my ‘monthlies’ for the first time at the age of 13. He literally looked at me, the panic etched in his face and said ‘have you got what you need’?. My gran had prepared me beforehand so I nodded and he ran down the stairs. Okay, maybe that situation would have been different had it been my mum but it worked for me! He also had a great time explaining when he met my stepmum for the first time and I asked whether she was his girlfriend. He went bright red and said she was a girl and a friend so must be a girlfriend!. Having said all this I rarely speak to my dad about my mum. I speak to my stepmum about my mum more than my dad. I don’t know why this is.

My gran, my mum’s mum, was another who I felt I couldn’t speak to my mum about. She was a lovely lady who passed away in January 2013 but I always felt she was unable to move on with her life after my mum died and felt any time I was talking to her it would provoke memories about my mum that would be quite painful for her. Perhaps that was simply my perception because at my wedding my nan mentioned she looked upset so went to see my gran who said ‘it is just like her mum’s wedding’. That made me feel sad but also proud that I look so like my mum and almost like she will live on.

My brother. Well that’s a whole other blog post! We were incredibly close after my mum died as he was extremely protective but sadly, particularly in recent years, my brother and my dad’s relationship has deteriorated. It is something that upsets me frequently and I would love to think 2015 would be the year that they come back together. After my mum died, my brother ‘acted up’ but probably didn’t receive the support he potentially could have done. Nobody’s fault as there is no textbook for dealing with grief but support was not widely available for young people or not known about. All this meant my brother is now seeking that support 22 years later and it has caused some issues throughout his life. He has diagnosed depression but is now off medication and doing well. He rarely talks about my mum to me and I am always cautious about talking to him about her which is bizarre because she was our mum. I constantly remind myself that everyone deals with grief in different ways but I feel like, similar to my gran, my brother has not ‘moved on’ and chooses to live with sad memories rather than remembering our mum in a happy way. Who am I to criticise though?

I visit my mum’s grave whenever I visit Yorkshire. The last visit was interesting as it was in the snow and the dark in a graveyard with no lights. I spent ten minutes using the torch from my iphone trying to find the gravestone and couldn’t find it at which point I rang my auntie (mum’s sister) asking her what wreath was on the gravestone and suggesting someone had stolen my mum’s gravestone. Two minutes later I found it and rang her back shouting ‘I’ve found her’. I apologise to anyone walking through Crofton graveyard but it also made me laugh as I could distinctly hear my mum saying ‘ what are you doing?!?..

I think about my mum, my nan and gran frequently. I feel them some days more than others. It scares me when I think I have forgotten things about them but generally the next day I see something that brings a memory back and makes me smile. I think I’m at the point where I accept the sadness. It is happening no matter what. My brother frustrates me as I feel like he thinks I have forgotten my mum sometimes. I haven’t. She is always there. The reality is my life may have been different had she still be alive. I’m not saying worse or better but may be different. Maybe I would have still moved away and met my husband. Maybe I would have stayed at home and married someone else. Who knows? I don’t want to live with a bunch of ‘what if’s’. It’s harder some days than others. It’s made me realise that I need to talk more about my mum if I want to. She was an amazing lady and she deserves to be celebrated. I only hope I will have her patience when I have my own children. I do have support from all my family and I think it’s just my perceptions that make me feel like I can’t at the moment.